Friday, December 23, 2016

My feature story in The International Brotherhood of Magicians Magazine


Wes Iseli

The Charitable Magician

 By C. Dennis Schick

In the December 2012 issue of The Linking Ring, I wrote a twelve-page arti­cle on “The Benevolence of Magic.” The idea came from a piece I had prepared for the 2012 I.B.M. Convention program on members’ visits to local hospitals during the convention, as well as the Share the Magic project (sales of convention lapel pins to benefit a local charity).
That first article highlighted over a dozen projects and programs that magi­cians were using to give back in some way. Each November or December – the season of giving – since then, we have continued the tradition. We have featured more than forty great examples of the Benevolence of Magic in the past five years. Now we add Wes Iseli to that list.
Okay, so you want to raise money for a good cause by doing magic. But doing it outside in the cold, in December, for twen­ty-four hours straight? You’ve got to be kidding.
Yet, that is what Wes Iseli has been doing annually for the past ten years, in front of a Walmart in Ruckersville, Virginia, to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network.*
As if that isn’t enough, last year he start­ed a project called Thirty Days of Giving, during which he filmed a magic video every day during November at a different venue, visited local charities, made dona­tions, and even did interviews.**
And as if that still wasn’t enough, he also visits a local Children’s Hospital on Christmas Day to perform magic room-to-room for children who were not able to go home for Christmas.***
Two conclusions are easily drawn from those three projects: 1) Wes Iseli has a heart for benevolent causes; and, 2) he understands and practices self-promotion and marketing.
So how (and why) did Iseli come to this point in his life and magic career? Before interviewing him, let’s review some of his biographical highlights.
Wesley Iseli was born November 10, 1977, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, but moved to Ruckersville, a suburb of Charlottesville, shortly thereafter. When he was seven, he was hanging out in his father’s video rental store when a man in the store pulled a quarter out of Wes’s ear. From then on Wes wanted to be a magician. He got his first magic set that Christmas, which sealed the deal.
When Wes was still young, his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Wes took care of him while his nurse mother worked at nights, until his father died in 2003 when Wes was twenty-five.

A promo photo shows three Wes Iseli features: cards, doves, and a black T-shirt.

Wes bought the family house from his mom, and lives there today with his family.
While attending Piedmont Community College (majoring in business and mar­keting), he worked at the Magic Tricks store in Charlottesville, learning and demonstrating magic tricks. About that time he started his own booking business, Party Magic. In addition to magicians, he booked jugglers, clowns, face painters, and storytellers, getting great business experi­ence.
Wes performed in local restaurants whenever he could. At an IHOP in 2005 he met one of the waitresses, Natalie. They married in 2008, and she has been part of his life and act ever since, as well as han­dling much of the booking, organizational, and bookkeeping aspects of the business. They added a daughter, Lana Elizabeth, who turns five this month. She is already an integral part of the act, often stealing the show.
In addition to his role as a performer, Wes is also an active magic teacher and lecturer, a Certified Animal Trainer, and a consultant on The Carbonaro Effect televi­sion show on the truTV Network. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Society of American Magicians, and the Fellowship of Christian Magicians.
Although Wes and Company will per­form nearly wherever requested, including birthday parties and corporate events, the Iselis have been focusing in recent years on their full evening stage show, booking engagements in theaters and performing arts centers. And that brings us mostly up to date and back around to the benevolence activities. Let’s ask Wes about them.


Hospital bedside performing on Christmas Day.

QUESTION: Before getting into your benevolence projects, tell us more about being a USDA Certified Animal Trainer, and your consulting gig for the The Carbonaro Effect. How did those happen?
ANSWER: First of all, I did work for them, I don’t currently. I was hired to fill in for their animal trainer who was also a magic consultant for season two. With the success of season one being more than hoped for, the network wanted thir­teen more episodes right away. When they called the animal trainer they used in season one to come back, he was already booked so he called me. I have been using animals in my show since day one – doves, bunnies, ducks, chickens, a pot-bellied pig. But when asked about my certifica­tion as an animal trainer I didn’t have that, so I went to animal trainer boot camp. There I fed a tiger and worked with mon­keys, camels, water buffalo, sheep, lemurs, exotic birds, and many more. I was also given scenarios like, “How would you make a production harness for a chicken?” I gained certification, sent in my paper­work, and my wife, daughter, and I found ourselves on the set working with Michael on his television show. Not only was Michael an amazing guy to work with, but so was the entire team.
Q: You seem to have a heart for giving back and using magic to help others. Please tell us about that.
A: In grade school I was the biggest earner for the American Heart Association in my school as my teacher was a friend of my parents and she drove me door to door where I would ask for donations. I loved helping other people. I grew up in a Christian family and learned that “It is better to give than to receive.” I married a woman who shared my beliefs, and they are an important part of our marriage. My wife and I have always donated our time to visit children’s hospitals annually.
Q: Tell us about your “24 hours of Magic” project. Where did the idea come from and how has it evolved? What are some of the magic effects you do?
A: It all started eleven years ago when I was driving home from a gig and I kept hearing John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” song on the radio. The song starts with
So this is Christmas
and what have you done?
Another year over,
and a new one just begun.
Every time I heard this song it was like I was being punched in the gut and the song was speaking directly to me.
So I came up with this crazy idea to use my talents to help raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. I wanted it to be over-the-top-crazy to get people’s attention to come check it out, to get media attention, and to make a memorable event. What I came up with was doing twenty-four hours of magic to raise money. I thought I could do ten minutes on and ten minutes off, but in the middle of the night folks didn’t want to wait ten minutes till the next show. So I ended up just perform­ing pretty much the entire time. This ended up being a big success, not only for us but also for the charity and the location where the event was held (Walmart).

                     Top: Wes performs close-up magic under a tent with a sponsor’s banner hanging nearby.
Bottom: He parks his van near where he per­forms for more publicity.


   Top: Wes poses with daughter, Lana.
  Middle: The show goes on even when it snow       
 Bottom: Ready to perform, with sponsors
  well-identified in an  around his tent.

 So then you came up with “Thirty Days of Giving.” Give us more details, please.
A. After years of performing my twenty-four hour show I had the urge again that this once-a-year event was not enough, so I came up with Wes Iseli’s Thirty Days of Giving project. For the entire month of November last year we performed magic themed for thirty different charities where we donated time, money, and products. The motto of the event was “If we all gave back a little more, imagine how great the world would be.”
The Thirty Days of Giving project was overwhelming considering we had to make arrangements with charities, set up inter­views, produce and edit online videos, create a magic trick themed for each day, and still do office work and perform shows as usual.
This year we created Wes Iseli’s Magic of Giving Project where the Thirty Days idea has been blown up to now go on all year long. Now we can do one of these videos each month, which is easier for us but also gives us more time to make them more amazing and get folks to think about giving back all year long.

Thirty Days of Magic. Left, Day 2: Wes taped coins in a 
Laundromat for free washing and drying. Right, 
Day 3: Wes performed magic at a children’s hospital.

Q: For the last two years you have spent part of Christmas Day doing magic for children in the hospital who could not be home for Christmas. How did that begin and how has it worked out? Surely you have some touching stories.

A: Because of the patients’ confidential­ity, I never know what I am walking into from room to room. Some kids seem fine and others could be really bad off or even on a breathing machine. My father-in-law is a cancer doctor for kids (pediatric hema­tologist/oncologist), and I asked him if I could visit his hospital on Christmas. All he could really do is put in a good word, and I was then contacted by the hospital to fill out paperwork.
Since I wanted to bring the press along, the hospital had to get parents’ consent for all video and photos prior to me walking into each room. The way hospitals work on Christmas is that they try to get all the kids discharged, even if they have to come back, so they can be home for Christmas. So the kids who are still there are in the most need. I have met some great kids. Some hear about me coming in advance and make me pictures or a craft project, which is super sweet.

  Top, Day 13: 
Wes taught seniors magic at an assisted living facility. 
  Bottom, Day 14: Wes made a television commercial for
  The Michael J. Fox Foundation in memory of his dad (shown in the photo).

   Day 16: Wes delivered toys for the Toys For Tots project.

Last year I walked into a room and the lady in charge of getting me around only told me the age of the child and his first name. I looked at the boy in the bed and he was hooked up to a breathing machine. He was on heavy medication so he couldn’t even open his eyes. After seeing his condi­tion, I noticed his sister was in the room, so I performed magic for her. Then her parents came over and really got into the magic and had great reactions. Once I left I told my wife it was like someone turned on the lights in the room while I was perform­ing. The mood of the room shifted from dark and gloomy to light and fun. I feel at the heart of all we do as entertainers, we are to entertain and take people’s minds off of the day-to-day dilemmas that may be weighing them down. That day I saw it first hand and felt it, too.
Q: What are some of the rules about performing in a children’s hospital? Did you have a lot of red tape to cut through?
A: Yes, a ton of paperwork and a lot of planning ahead. Never plan on getting it done in one day. If you are thinking about doing something like this, my advice is to plan your visit at least two months in advance. One tip I’ll give you is to put the rubber gloves on the child. You have to wash with disinfectant coming and going from each room, but the child usually touches your props. The rubber gloves keep the germs off the props and any germs from your props off the child.
Q: Isn’t December one of the busi­est performing seasons for magicians? How can you afford to take all that time during such a busy season?
A: My twenty-four hour show is the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I have sponsors that pay me for my time. I lose not only the Tuesday and Wednesday but also during the week leading up to it because I will be putting up posters at local businesses, plus I have six radio interviews scheduled to promote the event, and more. As far as the Christmas Day visit we don’t work then anyway, so it’s not a problem.
Q: What do you get out of all these activities?
A: I have made friends that I would not have made if it weren’t for these charity events. I know folks have benefited from my time and efforts. I have touched count­less lives in a positive way. I have tried to teach my daughter to be thankful for what we have because others aren’t so fortunate. From a business standpoint I have gotten my name out there and received a ton of press over the years.
Q: What advice would you give to other magicians and performers who might like to consider doing one or more of these, or some other benevolent proj­ect?
A: Just do it! If you are thinking about it, it probably means that this idea has struck a chord with you. Sitting around thinking about it isn’t doing anything for anyone. And stay determined! I was turned down by four local Walmarts before one agreed to let me do my twenty-four hour show.
Q: Anything else you would like to share with our magician readers?
A: Of course I cannot tell you to devel­op a heart for giving. That has to come from someone else or from somewhere else. But I can ask you to consider all your blessings and think about the power of magic to inspire and to bring wonder and to make people smile and laugh and forget their troubles. Then look around for opportunities to use your magic to express gratitude for those blessings. I bet you’ll find several, as we have.
Dennis Schick is an Assistant Editor of The Linking Ring and editor of the I.B.M. Website at Reach him by e-mail at